A new addition to your life (aka a baby) will lead to significant changes in your home life and your work life. As an expectant (or new) mother, I’ll bet you’re experiencing a wide range of emotions and feelings as a result of these big changes. Some of those feelings are quite likely anxiousness and fears about maternity leave (in the short term) and motherhood’s potential effect on your career (in the long term).
Your future at work just seems so unclear, right? I went through this too. I’ve seen it from both sides — going through the transition to motherhood myself and acting as an HR professional behind the scenes at some big companies.
Here are some of the common fears about maternity leave. And don’t worry; I’ve included my professional advice on how to cope.
1. How do I disclose my family plans at work without putting my job at risk?
Fear of disclosing your family plans can depend on your workplace and the relationships that you have with your manager and coworkers. While not always the case, having concerns about disclosing your plans to your employer is pretty common. For example, you might fear your employer will see you as less focused on your role and on your long-term career overall. You may also have concerns about your employer and colleagues treating you differently — or even, if you’re a freelancer or contract employee, terminating your job while you’re pregnant.
How to cope:
Only reveal what your employer actually needs to know. There’s no need to get into things like, “Don’t worry, boss. I’m only having one baby!” This is none of your employer’s business, and it only further complicates the relationship or makes unconscious biases more prominent. If you only reveal what’s necessary, understand that the perception of what you share is out of your control and that a supportive work environment will support your personal pursuits as much as your professional ones.
2. Will I lose work responsibilities/derail my career without trying to?
Another common concern includes the loss of responsibilities or commitments within the usual scope of your role as they are reassigned to other colleagues in anticipation of your maternity leave. You may fear that others will see you as a short-term contributor rather than a long-term asset within the company. This is especially true if they assume that you won’t be returning to work post-maternity leave.
Some expectant moms may notice a growing sense of gradual invisibility. You might feel like you’re moving from feeling valued within the company to feeling unessential. The transition toward motherhood can create feelings of insecurity in a mother who perceives — accurately or mistakenly — that she is being excluded from long-term decision-making within the workplace.
Combine these feelings with sore boobs, pants that don’t fit and hella hormones, and pregnancy can be a recipe for a complete and utter professional meltdown. Sometimes, I cried in my car at lunch.
How to cope:
If your manager is reassigning work that you are capable of and want to continue doing, ask about it. Go straight to the source (i.e., your manager) and figure out their intentions. Try saying something like: “Can you help me understand why Frank has taken on these aspects of my role? My current priorities would allow me to continue to manage this effectively.”
I can’t guarantee this will work. But instead of jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about why tasks are being rearranged, just ask. You never know; your manager might have assumed you wanted that work reassigned. That manager might actually be in the mindset that they’re helping you. At the end of the day, you’ll feel good knowing you’ve done your best to manage this situation and your reputation.
I don’t think we spend enough time talking about this. Pregnancy and maternity leave absolutely have impacts on our professional careers. And as career-minded moms, we need to start talking about it so we can get back to the business of enjoying our maternity leave. We’ve got to abolish the feelings that time away from work will inevitably set us back in our professional careers.
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